Get a cutting mat!

A couple of years ago, I finally broke down and bought a 24″ x 36″ self-healing cutting mat and an aluminum meter stick. Now I wonder why I waited so long!

I buy drawing paper in 22″ x 30″ sheets (or even larger sometimes) for a couple of reasons:

  1. It’s much cheaper to cut smaller sheets of the dimensions I really want from these, than it is to buy pre-cut standard sizes
  2. Some of the papers I like are only available as large sheets.

Furthermore, mat board is only available in 30″ x 40″ or larger sheets.

Here’s what I used to do–perhaps this sounds familiar to how you work.  Starting with a large sheet of paper or mat board, I measured from each end, made hash marks in the right spots, and lightly connected them with guide lines with an 18″ metal ruler and pencil.  Four hash marks, two intersecting lines. Then I followed the lines with my ruler and utility knife. For anything longer than 18″, I had to carefully move and align the ruler and make more hash marks, lines and cuts.  All too often and despite my effort, these longer lines or cuts weren’t perfectly aligned. Or my final dimensions were a little off, so my cut paper wasn’t perfectly rectangular.  But I didn’t know it yet!  I lightly marked a 1/2″ margin inside the edges all around and spent days or weeks creating my drawing within the margin.  Then when I finished and prepared to mat it with a 1/4″ margin all around, I discovered that the drawing’s dimensions were a little “off”!  DOH!

With the cutting mat and meter stick, I simply line up the edges of the full sheet with the mat’s grid, lay the meter stick along the line I need, and cut along it. Done! For the inside margin lines, same thing:  I line up the cut paper on the mat, lay the meter stick along the line I need, and lightly draw the margin line along it. Done! And both the cut dimensions and the margin box are truly rectangular. Perfect dimensions in a fraction of the time.

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Ready to cut an 8″ x 10″ from a larger piece of drawing paper

Today I cut 5 sheets of 26″ x 40″ Stonhenge paper into 60 sheets of 8″ x 10″ in only about 45 minutes, working at a leisurely pace. And they’re all perfect, according to how well they stacked.

You might be saying “What about the fact that a meter stick is 39″ and a full sheet of mat board is 40″? I lay my 18” ruler atop the meter stick to effectively extend it.

The cutting mat also has lines denoting 45- and 60-degree angles (but I haven’t needed those yet).  And if you prefer metric measurement, two edges of the mat are marked in centimeters.

When not in use, I slide my cutting mat behind my desk against the wall, and hang my meter stick on a nail.

Self-healing cutting mats of various sizes, and aluminum measuring sticks are available at any art supply store, and they’re not expensive. If you cut paper or mat board more than a couple of times a year, I recommend the investment. You, too, will wonder why you waited so long!

Every four seconds

During the afternoon of my most recent workshop, while we were all heads-down working on the next light layer of color, one of my students said “You look at your reference every four seconds.  I timed you.” I laughed, because I was unaware that anyone was watching me so closely and also because I was unaware of how frequently I check my reference.

It makes sense, though. When your goal is realism, close observation is key whether you’re working from a photo or from life. From one moment to the next, I’m figuratively “connecting the dots” that I’ve noticed in the details of color, line and form. I have observed beginners look for awhile at their reference and then draw without looking at it again for awhile, maybe even a couple of minutes, then wonder where they went astray. I think this is because we naturally believe we “know” what something looks like and work from that, rather than setting that belief aside to truly observe. Checking your reference every few seconds is a good habit to get into.

When I was learning to drive, the driving instructor hammered into us that we should check our mirrors every eight seconds. I still remember him repeating over and over “Mirror check….mirror check…mirror check.” Finally, one fellow student challenged him “Why? What’s behind us doesn’t matter.” He quickly responded “What’s behind you might be next to you in a moment.” There’s a certain parallel, here:  driving well requires moment-to-moment observation and awareness to avoid unpleasant surprises, and so does drawing well.

Here’s an idea for how to get yourself to check your reference more often: there are timer apps that can be set to ping at regular intervals. Try setting it to ping every ten seconds (for starters) as you draw. Whenever it pings, take a quick look at the spot on your reference that you’re working from. Don’t just glance at it, see it.

Drawing is all about seeing, so keep seeing.

I signed a book contract!

In early December, out of the blue, I received an email from someone at a well-known publishing company, asking if I would be interested in writing an art book. My thoughts quickly shifted through:

  • surprise – that a publisher came to ME
  • skepticism – whether the inquiry was legit
  • astonishment – that it was real
  • excitement – that it is a huge opportunity
  • regret – because I didn’t think I could take it with my existing commitments
  • speculation – on what I could omit from my year’s schedule in order to do it
  • worry – that if I signed the contract, something bad might happen
  • worry – that if I turned it down, I’d never get an opportunity like this again
  • confidence – that I can do this

After some back-and-forth, some consultation with other authors, and some negotiation, I signed the contract mid-January!

I’m not allowed to reveal anything about the book itself beyond what I’ve already said.  But it will be a VERY busy year through the end of August, drawing, scanning and writing to meet my monthly deadlines.  I won’t be able to share any of my images or text as I progress (sorry!).  Until the book is finished, I won’t be doing any new artwork of my own, and I’ll only be able to enter a few shows (with work I’ve already completed).  I start just as soon as I finish the portrait I have on my drawing board right now.  This doesn’t mean I won’t be writing blog postings, only that they won’t be about the book.

I have to pinch myself to remember this is really happening; I never imagined that someday I’d have a book contract as part of my art career!  This will be part of my art legacy someday, so I plan to focus and give it my best.  Wish me luck!

Paper furniture

My whole life, I wished for a flat-file cabinet (also known as a map cabinet) in order to store my larger sheets of drawing paper nice and flat, keep them clean and out of danger of getting wrinkled, creased, smudged or punctured.  About five years ago, I finally had a nice oak one made by an older gentleman in the Sierra foothills.  I had it made to fit 22″ x 30″ paper.  It turned out great.  The only problem is, it turns out that 22″ x 30″ paper with a deckled edge (such as Stonehenge paper) is actually 22.5″ x 30″.  DOH!  So one edge sticks out of the drawer, continually taunting me like a child with its tongue out: “You goofed and you can’t fix this!”

Since then, I’ve come to own even larger sheets of paper, 30″ x 40″.  They got stashed in a stack under the guest room bed, or behind a dresser, or rolled up inside a cabinet.  It’s the best I could do, but far from ideal–they could still end up dusty, scuffed or creased, in any combination.  All overnight guests were warned: Do NOT shove anything under the bed!

Thanks to my continuing to work full-time as a software engineer, which subsidizes my serious art habit, I decided this year that I could afford to finally buy an even larger flat-file cabinet.  I could no longer find the gentleman who made my first one; he was 80 when he made it, so he may have died?  I spent a couple of weeks poring over Google search results and eBay listings, trying to find a good used one.  Unfortunately they were all the wrong size, beat up, without drawer slides, or 2000+ miles away with no way to examine before purchase or do a return and refund.

So I allowed myself to consider buying new.  They’re so expensive!  And even then, most companies that sell them only provide a few options.  But I finally found an online retailer, Madison Art Shop, that offers quite a few configuration, size and material options.  After several days of pondering and asking questions, I placed my order.  Without telling you what I paid, the shipping charge alone was over $300!

Last week, it arrived from the manufacturer in Beaverton, Oregon–all 408 lbs, on its own pallet.  It’s here!  It’s here!

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Hm, this thing IS big!  I already knew it was going to be too big to fit in my little studio, even if I moved the smaller flat-file cabinet out.  So my husband agreed I could set it up in the living room.  The real effort began.  Underneath the plastic wrap and nylon straps, we found four crates, two of which each weighed almost 200 lbs.  We figured out how to get them up the two steps and through the front door without hurting ourselves by using a couple of dollies.  We were impressed with the packing; every piece and surface was in perfect condition.  The final assembly instructions called for little more than a Phillips-head screwdriver.  Over the next few days, it came together.  The base to the bottom cabinet, the cap to the top cabinet, the two halves together, the handles on the drawers, and finally, the drawers into the cabinet.  I wiped down all surfaces to remove wood dust residue.

Here it is!  My beautiful new 30″ x 42″ 10-drawer birch flat-file cabinet, with metal slides.  This puppy isn’t going to budge in an earthquake.  The drawers require a satisfying little nudge to finish closing, which provides the tension to hold them closed so they won’t slide open on their own.

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It just needed two final touches: I got barrier paper from Accent Arts to line the drawers (this protects the valuable drawing paper from the acid that wood leaches over time, which yellows anything with which it is in constant contact), and I had a thin sheet of clear acrylic cut by TAP Plastics to protect that gorgeous birch wood top.

I was very happy today to extricate the large sheets of paper from all those hiding places  and lay them in their new home.  And happy to stop those 22.5″ x 30″ sheets from sticking their collective tongue out at me from the smaller cabinet.

Now the new cabinet only sticks something out to offer me lovely, pristine drawing paper!

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Yes, it was expensive.  But this very well-made piece of furniture will last the rest of my life, and will probably go on to serve another artist, and someone else after that, for 100 or even 200 years.  No buyer’s remorse for me!

The (back) cover of a book!

I’m a couple of months late in tooting my horn about this. I blame my broken collarbone, because the break happened just a day or two after this happy milestone, before I had a chance to sit down and write about it.

In early October I received my advance copy of Strokes of Genius 8: Expressive Texture, a beautiful hard-bound art book from North Light Books edited by Rachel Rubin Wolf.  My Tree of Character was selected for inclusion in it almost a year ago–books take a long time to assemble.  So I hastily opened the package and started browsing through it, marveling at the quality of all the drawings that mine was honored to be among and noting that the color fidelity for mine was quite good.  Then I flipped it over to check out the back cover, and I almost dropped it: my Tree of Character IS the back cover!  This was the best surprise of 2016!

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A couple of friends asked me “Did they have your permission to do that?” and “Did they pay you extra for using it that way?”  Yes, you grant publishers pretty liberal permission to use your images when you submit them for possible inclusion in a book.  And no, you receive no payment for being included inside or out, just bragging rights!

Wrapping Up 2016

Here it is, the last day of 2016!  What an art year it was for me:

  • Exhibited work in 15 juried shows, including internationally in London and Ottawa
  • Won 7 awards
  • Sold 6 originals
  • Finished 11 new drawings
  • Taught 2 workshops
  • Gave 3 presentations
  • Exhibited 2 weekends in Silicon Valley Open Studios
  • Led a 2-day forum at the Colored Pencil Society of America convention in Tacoma
  • The featured and cover artist in the May issue of COLOR magazine
  • One of my drawings was used for advertising in The Artist’s Magazine, Pastel Journal, and Drawing Magazine
  • Published in 3 new books: CP Treasures, Vol. IV from Ann Kullberg, and Strokes of Genius 8: Expressive Texture and Art Journey Animals from North Light Books
  • Published a JumpStart step-by-step booklet through Ann Kullberg
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 strokesofgeniusad  art-journey-animals-cover

Along with all that, late in the year I stepped down after five years as president of my CPSA chapter (DC 210 San Jose), in order to take on a new role as the organization’s national Marketing Director.

And I broke my collarbone, which brought everything art-related to a halt for more than six weeks while I healed from surgery to fix it (steel plate forevermore!) I’m still going to physical therapy to regain strength and mobility.

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All that while still working at a full-time job.  Whew!

With each year, I’m still learning how to pace myself.  Spring and early summer seem to be very hectic, while autumn and early winter are more relaxed, so I’m trying to figure out how to spread the work out.  I’m not sure it’s possible, since the reason for the hectic part of the year is deadlines over which I have no control.  One possibility is to simply not enter as many juried shows, but what’s the fun in that?

2017 is already stacking up!  I have commitments for three presentations and four workshops (three of which involve travel) in the first five months.  Check the Calendar page of my website to keep abreast of all that.

And the contract is not yet signed, but it looks like I will be writing a book, which will preclude me from making any new art until at least the end of August, and I’ll have to skip several exhibit opportunities.  I’m feeling ambivalent about the honor of writing a book that will be published but not being able to draw what I want for most of the year.  I guess it’s a good problem to have!

May your 2017 be productive and filled with art!

A broken bone applies the brakes

I’ve been laying low lately.  On October 12, I tipped over on my motorcycle at a measly one mile per hour in a parking lot and broke my collarbone.  I felt it break as I hit the pavement, and felt the broken ends shifting around inside as I tried to do the simplest thing like remove my helmet.  The x-rays at the ER confirmed an uneven and displaced break that required surgery to fix.   They sent me home with a sling and a supply of strong painkillers.  Eight days later, on October 20, I finally got the surgery to install a steel plate to stabilize the broken pieces together.  I spent the next four days sleeping a lot.

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4.5 days post-surgery.  For the record, my shoulder and arm are not this fat! It’s the post-surgery swelling, just like the bruises.

From the time of the break until a few days after surgery, my husband was quite literally my “right hand man”, and waited on me hand and foot.  For example, I had finished a portrait commission the day before the break; he drove me to Lowe’s to select and cut the portrait shipping materials, then carefully assembled it all for shipping under my instruction and drove me to the post office.  He is accustomed to seeing me constantly on the go with a jam-packed to-do list, and told a friend “Nothing like watching her go from 300 miles per hour to 22 miles per hour in one day!”

I also had to cancel a one-day workshop that was scheduled for the 23rd–3 days after surgery–with 11 people registered.  (It’s been rescheduled for January 15, 2017.)

I’m now 11 days past surgery and healing very well according to my surgeon, in fact I start six weeks of physical therapy tomorrow.

I’ve been learning a lot about how one moment in time and one simple broken bone can turn your life upside down.  We take our abilities for granted until one or more of them is taken away.  The simplest activities like combing my hair and applying mascara became difficult, and activities like tying shoelaces and putting on a pullover shirt became impossible.  I was so happy when I was able to feed myself with my right hand for the first time again, 14 days after the break.  Perhaps the biggest surprise has been that for just one little broken bone, I’ve been needing much more sleep and tiring easily; apparently it takes a lot of energy to heal a break.  I’m grateful for modern medicine which will have me doing everything normally again in just 6-8 weeks!

They say “Art Imitates Life.”  Yesterday was Halloween, so I selected a pumpkin with a “shoulder” and made it into a “self portrait”.  Yes, those are real staples, with Neocolor II wax pastel “bruises”.  My coworkers knew whose pumpkin it was without asking!

It’s been frustrating that with all this “time off”, I haven’t been able to do anything fun.  I couldn’t read because I couldn’t hold a magazine or book open, I couldn’t draw or write because it’s my right shoulder and I’m right-handed, I couldn’t drive somewhere because of the painkillers, I couldn’t go for hikes or walks because of the constant shoulder movement, and of course I couldn’t ride my motorcycle.  All I could really do was watch TV, and one can stand only so much of that.

Now my shoulder is feeling and working better, I can type two-handed, and I’m starting to eye the drawing board again.  I’m expecting to start that next commission later this week, and I can’t wait.